That’s the implicit takeaway from The New York Times’ 14,000-word investigation on how the president got rich. The opus makes clear (a) that Trump didn’t earn his wealth, but inherited it from his father with the help of legally dubious tax schemes and (b) that his father repeatedly bailed him out. The article suggests that the president’s notorious reluctance to release his tax returns is not just a matter of wanting to avoid political embarrassment but could also stem from a fear that he could still be liable for civil fines on tax fraud. In short, Trump’s entire self-presentation as a largely self-made business genius is one big con.
Trump has received at least $413 million from his father’s business empire, which he continues to profit from. As the Times piece reports:
Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.
In the article, Trump’s attorney is quoted as threatening a defamation suit against the Times if they publish. But the president’s own response on Twitter strikes a different note. It’s difficult to make out the full intent of Trump’s tweet on the matter, but Maggie Haberman, veteran Times reporter, suggests that the president is saying his electoral victory renders the issues in the article moot.
Characterizing the article as being an “old, boring and often told hit piece” in no way invalidates it. The statement issued by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders took a similar line by suggesting that the Times should focus on the good news of the economy. While the origins of Trump’s fortune might be old news, it hardly seems irrelevant for judging Trump. Indeed, it goes to the heart of the story he offered voters as a candidate.